Authors: Patricia Wentworth
As I was going adown the dale
Sing derry down dale, and derry down dale,
As I was going adown the dale,
Adown the dale of a Monday,
With never a thought of the Devil his tricks,
Why who should I meet with his bundle of sticks,
But the very old man of the Nursery tale,
Sing derry down dale, and derry down dale,
The wicked old man of the Nursery tale
Who gathered his sticks of a Sunday.
Sing derry down, derry down dale.
OLD Mr. Edward Mottisfont looked over the edge of the sheet at David
“My nephew Edward is most undoubtedly and indisputably a prig—a
damned prig,” he added thoughtfully after a moment's pause for
reflection. As he reflected his black eyes danced from David's face to
a crayon drawing which hung on the paneled wall above the mantelpiece.
“His mother's fault,” he observed, “it 's not so bad in a woman, and
she was pretty, which Edward ain't. Pretty and a prig my sister
There was a faint emphasis on the word sister, and David remembered
having heard his mother say that both Edward and William Mottisfont had
been in love with the girl whom William married. “And a plain prig my
nephew Edward,” continued the old gentleman. “Damn it all, David, why
can't I leave my money to you instead?”
“Because I should n't take it, sir,” he said.
He was sitting, most unprofessionally, on the edge of his patient's
large four-post bed. Old Mr. Edward Mottisfont looked at him
“How much would you take—eh, David? Come now—say—how much?”
David laughed again. His grey eyes twinkled. “Nary penny, sir,” he
said, swinging his arm over the great carved post beside him. There
were cherubs' heads upon it, a fact that had always amused its owner
“Nonsense,” said old Mr. Mottisfont, and for the first time his thin
voice was tinged with earnestness. “Nonsense, David. Why! I 've left
you five thousand pounds.”
David started. His eyes changed. They were very deep-set eyes. It
was only when he laughed that they appeared grey. When he was serious
they were so dark as to look black. Apparently he was moved and
concerned. His voice took a boyish tone. “Oh, I say, sir—but you must
n't—I can't take it, you know.”
“And why not, pray?” This was Mr. Mottisfont at his most sarcastic.
David got the better of his momentary embarrassment.
“I shan't forget that you 've thought of it, sir,” he said. “But I
can't benefit under a patient's will. I have n't got many principles,
but that 's one of them. My father drummed it into me from the time I
was about seven.”
Old Mr. Edward Mottisfont lifted the thin eyebrows that had
contrived to remain coal-black, although his hair was white. They gave
him a Mephistophelean appearance of which he was rather proud.
“Very fine and highfalutin,” he observed. “You 're an exceedingly
upright young man, David.”
After a moment the old gentleman's lips gave way at the corners, and
he laughed too.
“Oh, Lord, David, who 'd ha' thought it of you!” he said. “You won't
take a thousand?”
David shook his head.
“Not five hundred?”
“Not five pence,” he said.
Old Mr. Mottisfont glared at him for a moment. “Prig,” he observed
with great conciseness. Then he pursed up his lips, felt under his
pillow, and pulled out a long folded paper.
“All the more for Edward,” he said maliciously. “All the more for
Edward, and all the more reason for Edward to wish me dead. I wonder he
don't poison me. Perhaps he will. Oh, Lord, I 'd give something to see
Edward tried for murder! Think of it, David—only think of it—Twelve
British Citizens in one box—Edward in another—all the British
Citizens looking at Edward, and Edward looking as if he was in church,
and wondering if the moth was getting into his collections, and if any
one would care for 'em when he was dead and gone. Eh, David? Eh, David?
And Mary—like Niobe, all tears—”
David had been chuckling to himself, but at the mention of Edward's
wife his face changed a little. He continued to laugh, but his eyes
hardened, and he interrupted his patient: “Come, sir, you must n't tire
“Like Niobe, all tears,” repeated Mr. Mottisfont, obstinately.
“Sweetly pretty she 'd look too—eh, David? Edward 's a lucky dog,
David's eyes flashed once and then hardened still more. His chin was
“Come, sir,” he repeated, and looked steadily at the old man.
“Beast—ain't I?” said old Mr. Mottisfont with the utmost
cheerfulness. He occupied himself with arranging the bedclothes in an
accurate line across his chest. As he did so, his hand touched the long
folded paper, and he gave it an impatient push.
“You 're a damn nuisance, David,” he said. “I 've made my will once,
and now I 've to make it all over again just to please you. All the
whole blessed thing over again, from 'I, Edward Morell Mottisfont,'
down to 'I deliver this my act and deed.' Oh, Lord, what a bore.”
“Mr. Fenwick,” suggested David, and old Mr. Edward Mottisfont flared
into sudden wrath.
“Don't talk to me of lawyers,” he said violently. “I know enough law
to make a will they can't upset. Don't talk of 'em. Sharks and robbers.
Worse than the doctors. Besides young Fenwick talks—tells his wife
things—and she tells her sister. And what Mary Bowden knows, the town
knows. Did I ever tell you how I found out? I suspected, but I wanted
to be sure. So I sent for young Fenwick, and told him I wanted to make
my will. So far, so good. I made it—or he did. And I left a couple of
thousand pounds to Bessie Fenwick and a couple more to her sister Mary
in memory of my old friendship with their father. And as soon as Master
Fenwick had gone I put his morning's work in the fire. Now how do I
know he talked? This way. A week later I met Mary Bowden in the High
Street, and I had the fright of my life. I declare I thought she 'd ha'
kissed me. It was 'I hope you are prudent to be out in this east wind,
dear Mr. Mottisfont,' and I must come and see them soon—and oh, Lord,
what fools women are! Mary Bowden never could abide me till she thought
I 'd left her two thousand pounds.”
“Fenwicks are n't the only lawyers in the world,” suggested David.
“Much obliged, I 'm sure. I did go to one once to make a will—they
say it 's sweet to play the fool sometimes—eh, David? Fool I was sure
enough. I found a little mottled man, that sat blinking at me, and
repeating my words, till I could have murdered him with his own office
pen-knife. He called me Moral too, in stead of Morell. 'Edward Moral
Mottisfont,' and I took occasion to inform him that I was n't moral,
never had been moral, and never intended to be moral. I said he must be
thinking of my nephew Edward, who was damn moral. Oh, Lord, here is
Edward. I could ha' done without him.”
The door opened as he was speaking, and young Edward Mottisfont came
in. He was a slight, fair man with a well-shaped head, a straight nose,
and as much chin as a great many other people. He wore pince-nez
because he was short-sighted, and high collars because he had a long
neck. Both the pince-nez and the collar had an intensely
irritating effect upon old Mr. Edward Mottisfont.
“If he had n't been for ever blinking at some bug that was just out
of his sight, his eyes would have been as good as mine, and he might
just as well keep his head in a butterfly net or a collecting box as
where he does keep it. Not that I should have said that Edward did
keep his head.”
“I think you flurry him, sir,” said David, “and—”
“I know I do,” grinned Mr. Mottisfont.
Young Edward Mottisfont came into the room and shut the door.
Old Mr. Mottisfont watched him with black, malicious eyes.
For as many years as Edward could remember anything, he could
remember just that look upon his uncle's face. It made him uneasy now,
as it had made him uneasy when he was only five years old.
Once when he was fifteen he said to David Blake: “You cheek him,
David, and he likes you for it. How on earth do you manage it? Does n't
he make you feel beastly?”
And David stared and said: “Beastly? Rats! Why should I feel
beastly? He 's jolly amusing. He makes me laugh.”
At thirty, Edward no longer employed quite the same ingenuous slang,
but there was no doubt that he still experienced the same sensations,
which fifteen years earlier he had characterized as beastly.
Old Mr. Edward Mottisfont lay in bed with his hands folded on his
chest. He watched his nephew with considerable amusement, and waited
for him to speak.
Edward took a chair beside the bed. Then he said that it was a fine
day, and old Mr. Mottisfont nodded twice with much solemnity.
“Yes, Edward,” he said.
There was a pause.
“I hope you are feeling pretty well,” was the unfortunate Edward's
next attempt at conversation.
Old Mr. Edward Mottisfont looked across at David Blake. “Am I
feeling pretty well—eh, David?”
David laughed. He had moved when Edward came into the room, and was
standing by the window looking out. A little square pane was open.
Through it came the drowsy murmur of a drowsy, old-fashioned town. Mr.
Mottisfont's house stood a few yards back from the road, just at the
head of the High Street. Market Harford was a very old town, and the
house was a very old house. There was a staircase which was admired by
American visitors, and a front door for which they occasionally made
bids. From where Mr. Mottisfont lay in bed he could see a narrow lane
hedged in by high old houses with red tiles. Beyond, the ground fell
sharply away, and there was a prospect of many red roofs. Farther
still, beyond the river, he could see the great black chimneys of his
foundry, and the smoke that came from them. It was the sight that he
loved best in the world. David looked down into the High Street and
watched one lamp after another spring into brightness. He could see a
long ribbon of light go down to the river and then rise again. He
turned back into the room when he was appealed to, and said:
“Why, you know best how you feel, sir.”
“Oh, no,” said old Mr. Mottisfont in a smooth, resigned voice. “Oh,
no, David. In a private and unofficial sort of way, yes; but in a
public and official sense, oh, dear, no. Edward wants to know when to
order his mourning, and how to arrange his holiday so as not to clash
with my funeral, so it is for my medical adviser to reply, ain't it,
The colour ran to the roots of Edward Mottisfont's fair hair. He
cast an appealing glance in David's direction, and did not speak.
“I don't think any of us will order our mourning till you 're dead,
sir,” said David with a chuckle. He commiserated Edward, but, after
all, Edward was a lucky dog—and to see one's successful rival at a
disadvantage is not an altogether unpleasant experience. “You 'll
outlive some of us young ones yet,” he added, but old Mr. Mottisfont
“Seen any more of young Stevenson, Edward?” he said, with an abrupt
change of manner.
Edward shook his head rather ruefully.
“No, sir, I have n't.”
“No, and you ain't likely to,” said old Mr. Mottisfont. “There, you
'd best be gone. I 've talked enough.”
“Then good-night, sir,” said Edward Mottisfont, getting up with some
show of cheerfulness.
The tone of Mr. Mottisfont's good-night was not nearly such a
pleasant one, and as soon as the door had closed upon Edward he flung
round towards David Blake with an angry “What 's the good of him? What
's the good of the fellow? He 's not a business man. He 's not a man at
all; he 's an entomologiac—a lepidoptofool—a damn lepidoptofool.”
These remarkable epithets followed one another with an extraordinary
When the old gentleman paused for breath David inquired, “What 's
the trouble, sir?”
“Oh, he 's muddled the new contract with Stevenson. Thinking of
butterflies, I expect. Pretty things, butterflies—but there—I don't
see that I need distress myself. It ain't me it 's going to touch. It
's Edward's own look-out. My income ain't going to concern me for very
He was silent for a moment. Then he made a restless movement with
“It won't, will it—eh, David? You did n't mean what you said just
now? It was just a flam? I ain't going to live, am I?”
David hesitated and the old man broke in with an extraordinary
“Oh, for the Lord's sake, David, I 'm not a girl—out with it! How
long d' ye give me?”
David sat down on the bed again. His movements had a surprising
gentleness for so large a man. His odd, humorous face was quite
“Really, sir, I don't know,” he said, “I really don't. There 's no
more to be done if you won't let me operate. No, we won't go over all
that again. I know you 've made up your mind. And no one can possibly
say how long it may be. You might have died this week, or you may die
in a month, or it may go on for a year—or two—or three. You 've the
sort of constitution they don't make nowadays.”
“Three years,” said old Mr. Edward Mottisfont—“three years,
David—and this damn pain all along—all the time—getting worse—”
“Oh, I think we can relieve the pain, sir,” said David cheerfully.
“Much obliged, David. Some beastly drug that 'll turn me into an
idiot. No, thank ye, I 'll keep my wits if it 's all the same to you.
Well, well, it 's all in the day's work, and I 'm not complaining, but
Edward 'll get mortal tired of waiting for my shoes if I last three
years. I doubt his patience holding out. He 'll be bound to hasten
matters on. Think of the bad example I shall be for the baby—when it
comes. Lord, David, what d' ye want to look like that for? I suppose
they 'll have babies like other folk, and I 'll be a bad example for
'em. Edward 'll think of that. When he 's thought of it enough, and I
've got on his nerves a bit more than usual, he 'll put strychnine or
arsenic into my soup. Oh, Edward 'll poison me yet. You 'll see.'